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Congress

Dell, IBM CEOs Talk Competitiveness

February 2, 2011

The top executives of two of the nation's leading tech companies said Wednesday that they believe the nation is facing a crisis in terms of maintaining its competitiveness in the coming years given the aggressive steps taken by China, India and other countries to compete internationally.

During a forum on technology and innovation sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, IBM Chairman and CEO Samuel J. Palmisano and Dell Chairman and CEO Michael Dell discussed how the United States can maintain its innovation edge, while also outlining ways the federal government can reduce its deficit.

It's a "real crisis," Dell said in discussing the need for the country to take steps to maintain its competitive edge. "We can't afford to ignore these issues. We also don't believe its too late. We think if we take decisive action, a lot of progress can be made."

Dell, Palmisano and other tech CEOs met Tuesday with President Obama to talk more about some of the issues he raised during his State of the Union address last week including his call for more focus on ways to help spur U.S innovation.

Palmisano said during the White House meeting there "was a sincere and keen interest in addressing why the U.S. is not more competitive."

The IBM chief summed up the "three biggest inhibitors to competitiveness" in the United States as taxes, trade and education. On taxes, Palmisano noted in a global economy, big international companies like IBM can locate their operations anywhere in the world and said many companies will question why they should invest in the United States when it has one of the highest corporate tax rates at more than 30 percent, while other countries are as low as 10 percent.

Palmisano and Dell also brought this message to key lawmakers on Capitol Hill. They met Wednesday with Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. as well as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to talk about the need to lower the corporate tax rate, a move Obama echoed in his State of the Union speech, and implement several pending free trade agreements, Tim Sheehy, IBM's vice president of governmental programs, said after the forum.

When it comes to education, Palmisano said companies are having trouble getting access to top talent in the United States, noting that some countries are graduating twice as many students with doctorates than the Untied States.

On trade, he noted Obama urged the CEOs to help the administration make the case for some of the pending free trade agreements. The data shows that the "United States is better off" when it has free trade agreements in place, Palmisano said. However, he acknowledged that this is not the "perception of the average American." He added that business leaders "have to sell the case ... That's very, very difficult in a high unemployment environment."

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